“With the Fire on High” showcases a powerful message

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo centers around 17-year-old Emoni. As an aspiring chef, Emoni has dreams of attending culinary school and turning her passion for cooking into a real career. With a three-year-old daughter, Emma, to take care of, it’s anything but easy for her to hold on to her dreams, but when her school announces a special culinary arts program that will end with a weeklong apprenticeship in Spain, she can’t help but imagine the possibilities. 

From the first chapter, Emoni intrigued me as a character. She prioritizes her daughter without hesitation, but still struggles with her own wants and needs. Although her life could not be more different from mine, it was easy to get wrapped up in the story and sympathize with her. Emoni’s first-person narration reads like a diary, giving the story an intimacy it might not have otherwise had. 

With the Fire on High is ultimately a love story. Emoni’s grandmother, ‘Buela, and her best friend, Angelica, are unwavering in their support of her throughout the book. Emoni even learns to open up to Malachi, a boy in her cooking class. But it still does not shy away from the difficult parts of life. Emoni’s strained relationship with her father, as well as the effects her mother’s death had on her, are on full display. The reader is intimately aware of her struggle in dealing with Tyrone, her ex-boyfriend and Emma’s father. The characters are each complex in their own way, practically jumping off the page. The characters are what drive the story, and it is nearly impossible not to root for them to succeed. 

I would recommend With the Fire on High to anyone, but especially to those who enjoy contemporary, character-driven stories. Reading about Emoni’s journey made me consider points of view that I might not have thought of otherwise, and I truly enjoyed it.